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The Sandwich Casino
A Grand Gathering Spot

By Kaethe Maguire

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The Sandwich Casino 

I know when you read the word casino you think of gambling. Evidently, in the past, the term was used for a gathering place for social interaction.

 

Such was our Sandwich Casino. It was located on the corner of School Street and what is now Pheasant Lane, right in Sandwich Village. Next to the Casino was the Town School built in 1855.

The Casino was constructed in 1884, ironically the year Bourne became a separate town created from West Sandwich. The monied movers in town wanted a gathering space not associated with Town Hall for some reason. One of these ‘movers’ was William Boyden whom you met in my previous article on the burning of the Boyden Block on Main Street. 

The building was 130 feet by 50 feet with a portico, two anterooms, a large gallery, toilets, and a raised bandstand. The building was designed to allow for roller skating or dances. Lighting was provided by gas jets.

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The town school was located next to the Casino  

The grand opening on August 7, 1884 was a big celebration with an orchestra sent down from Boston as well as an exhibition by renowned roller skater Carrie Gilmore, also of Boston. People danced until 2 a.m.! The crowd was second only to the gathering in 1848 when the railroad came to Sandwich and a banquet was held for 1,200 people.

The Sandwich Casino was certainly well used over the years. The town celebrated the 250th anniversary in 1887. As happened recently in 2014, when the town celebrated the 375th they did not celebrate until 1889, the timeline following incorporation and not the founding date of 1637.

A massive clam bake was held under a huge tent behind the Casino which measured 260 by 80 feet containing 14 long tables and seating 2,000! After dinner the ability to produce fine music was evident when a chorus of 50 and a band performed the Gloria from Mozart's 12th Mass.

 

Did you ever wonder when the usual July 4th boat parade over Shawme ‘Lake’ as it was called, began? Well, surprise surprise, it began with the 250th anniversary celebration. After the clam bake, 40 boats and barges, all decorated, and organized by one F. Edwin Elwell, a summer resident, who based the idea on the boats of Venice on the Grande Canal. He was a sculptor, so he may have witnessed the boat parade on the Grande Canal himself.

Of course there was a fireworks display from a raft as well. The last event of the day was a ball at the Casino with a band from Boston! This was the first big event held in Sandwich that used electric lights. 

 

Reflecting on the reasons why those in West Sandwich rebelled and formed their own town of Bourne, the only detractors during this huge celebration were the people of Plymouth and Bourne who complained that Sandwich hadn’t fixed the County Road to Sandwich since 1637!

 

These celebrations at the Casino continued for years. The town inaugurated what was called Old Home Week in 1902, also the first year of the now annual Wing Family Reunion in East Sandwich. The events of the day culminated with a Grand Ball at the Casino.

By the 300th anniversary of Sandwich in 1939 baseball games behind the Casino were added to the festivities. What was the Casino field is now Pheasant Lane. The 300th was a major celebration for Sandwich. Please note the picture of the giant clam bake behind the Casino held for that occasion as well as the photo of our native son, author Thornton Burgess, a speaker at that anniversary as well. 

So, when was the Casino taken down and why? It seems that the hurricane of 1938 did heavy damage to the Casino. We know it was not used as a meeting place after 1941. Notes made by Dorothy Schofield at the Sandwich Historical Society/Glass Museum report that it was taken down 1944/45 near the end of World War II. Certainly, had it been safe to use, the military would have gathered there instead of the tiny USO building on Jarves Street where Beth’s Café and Bakery now stands. 

 

A play called “Hay Fever” was performed on August 5, 1941 but that seems to have been the last gathering held.  However, even though the building was no longer in use, the playing fields behind the Casino were used for many years thereafter.

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Baseball game in the Casino field

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The 300th Anniversary crowd enjoys a

sit-down clambake in back of the Casino.

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Sandwich native and author Thornton Burgess addresses those in attendance at the 300th Anniversary of Sandwich. The Casino is in the background.

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